Joe and I have been in Morocco for almost a month now, making it our longest stop together (and my longest since Italy). It has been a whirlwind month spent absorbing Moroccan culture while teaching English to locals at several language schools. This is also our last workaway experience on this trip, so it has been a bittersweet stay. The next few blogs will be about our time in Morocco- but first, how did we end up here, anyway?
After Istanbul, Joe and I headed to Bucharest to visit his aunt and uncle for a few days… but we had no idea where we were going after that. We had applied to a number of workaways in Spain and Portugal, but none had panned out; we now had less than a week to find a new gig and figure out how to get there. On a whim, I decided to look for workaways in Morocco; it was close to the Iberian peninsula, and was a country that historically had a mix of eastern and western influences, which I hoped might feel similar to Turkey. Plus, staying there wouldn't use up my precious Shengen days. It seemed like the perfect place to wait for an opportunity to open up in Europe, and within the day I had applied for a workaway at a chain of English language schools in Morocco. We were soon approved to come to the schools on short notice, and I booked our flight to Morocco, relieved to have our next stop figured out.
Joe was less excited about Morocco, but took comfort knowing that we would at least have a more stable schedule for a while and access big city amenities. It sounded like we would be staying in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, with easy access to beaches, cafes, gyms, and public transit. It all sounded reassuringly comfortable, a relaxing break after several weeks of hectic travelling.
We landed in the Casablanca airport at 1am, where our new host, Harim, kindly picked us up. We all introduced ourselves as we drove down the unlit road leading away from the airport. The headlights of our vehicle seemed to be the only source of light in the surrounding desert. It was clear that we were not near the city of Casablanca itself, so we settled in for a lengthy car ride.
Despite the late hour, Harim seemed fully awake and happy to talk. He told us about his 5 language schools spread across 4 cities in Morocco, where people of all ages learned English and French. He also warned us to be wary of the scams that Moroccans pull on tourists, and to avoid waving our phones or money around too much. (Apparently enough volunteers had been hoodwinked or robbed that Harim made sure to prepare all new volunteers with this caution.) He told us fondly about the beautiful sites and cities in Morocco, and the trips that he had taken with groups of previous volunteers; it was clear that Harim was proud of his country and wanted to ensure that his volunteers saw as much of it as possible. He went on to ask us if we knew about Ramadan.
“Yeah, we read that it just started and will be going on all month,” Joe said.
“We’re both planning to participate in the fast,” I added. I wasn’t sure if it was okay for non-Muslims to participate, so I watched for Harim’s response.
His reply put my worries to rest. “That’s good, because the cafes and restaurants will all be closed during the day anyway!” He smiled apologetically. “Ramadan isn’t the best time to visit Morocco, unfortunately, because things close in the day and only open at night.”
We didn’t quite understand the implications of this, but we smiled and assured Harim that we were actually excited about Ramadan. I was looking forward to challenging myself with the month-long fast; I liked the spiritual and self-reflective aspects of Ramadan, and thought myself capable of the strict, no-food-during-daylight-hours diet. Joe had done fasts previously, and was confident in his ability to tackle this one, too.
After 20 minutes of driving and chatting, we finally approached a small city. Streetlights popped up and a few more cars began to accompany us on the broad boulevards. I assumed we’d entered the outer edge of Casablanca, and was excited to see the city center soon. But instead of continuing deeper into the city, Harim pulled off the main road onto a wide side street and parked the van in front of a small building on the edge of a sweeping desert lot. A sign near the top of the building declared the name of Harim’s language school.
“Are we already in Casablanca?” I asked uncertainly.
“No, not Casablanca. This is the Berrechid school,” said Harim. “But Casa is only 30 minutes away by train. You two will be staying here. Come!”
Joe and I shared a confused glance, but followed Harim into the school. Inside, all the lights were on and a large group of volunteers were hanging out and talking animatedly. They all introduced themselves, their names and backgrounds coming too fast to remember. (We later learned that the Berrechid school was the biggest branch and usually had the most volunteers, despite being located in a small city.)
The basement bedrooms were full when we arrived, so Joe and I were set up with mattresses and bedding in a spare classroom on the second floor. Harim checked in one last time to make sure we had everything we needed, then bid us farewell and departed. (We didn’t see Harim again after that; he occasionally visited the various schools, but mostly seemed to spend his time off-site somewhere. We communicated with him via text if we needed anything.) After a long day of travelling, we finally crashed around 2am.
“So do you think we’re gonna be stuck here instead of going to Casablanca?” Joe asked as we laid out our blankets and sheets.
I shook my head. “I’m sure we’ll be heading to Casa soon. Maybe this is some kind of drop off point for all new volunteers, since it’s close to the airport? We can ask the other volunteers tomorrow.” I hoped this was true, but at that point, we couldn’t be sure of anything. Maybe we would have to stay in Berrechid, maybe we would get shuffled around among all the schools as needed, or maybe we would be given directions to the Casablanca school the next morning. We went to sleep hoping for the best, but preparing for anything.
The next day, we got reacquainted with a few of the other volunteers, who provided answers to our questions: no, Berrechid was not a drop-off point, and everyone else at Berrechid was there to stay a while. Once we learned this, I sent Harim a message, asking when Joe and I could go to Casablanca. He responded with a schedule of available dates for the various schools; Casablanca had no space for almost 2 weeks, but Fez was available in the meantime. So we decided on 4 days in Berrechid, then 10 days in Fez, then a couple of weeks in Casablanca. We were slightly disappointed by this change of events, but happy that we had gotten to choose our own schedule for the trip. One thing was clear: in Berrechid, there would be no beaches, cafes, or gyms. We settled in for our brief stay in this rural city, curious about what was in store for us instead.